We the People is a blog series that features the stories of members, supporters, volunteers, and allies of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota. Together we are accomplishing critical work in our state to protect and advance civil liberties across the midwest and beyond.
Todd Allen Shellburg is the Show Director and Bartender at Club David in Sioux Falls. For the last 29 years, Todd is also known by another name on show nights, get to know him and his fabulous persona in our newest We the People blog.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a small town with population of 100. I graduated from Scotland High School in 1987, then moved to Sioux Falls for college, which lead to a two-year degree in business administration. Growing up in a smaller town, I had always known I was different, but I was completely OK with that. It was never my mission to tell the whole world I was gay – I just let people form their own decisions. I have been in a relationship for 24 years with an amazing man, and together we share our lives with Shelby, Moose, and Jackie, our three fur babies.
You’ve been doing drag for a few years. Tell us about that.
My drag career began 29 years ago and is still going strong. I started by having a few drag queen friends (Barbra Love and Carmen Rose) help me with my makeup and outfits. I remember wearing a black knit skirt, leopard/animal print ¾-sleeve top with a black belt, heels and dark brown hair. Switching to blond hair, I was told, would transform me into Joan Rivers. Which to me, was a no-brainer. Fast forward to today, and I still impersonate Joan Rivers now and again. Ms. Rivers is the only celebrity illusion I’m known for. While I have done other artists, I do them as the Brittany Brooks, which is my drag queen persona known for her amazing costumes.
What inspired you to become a drag performer?
After attending a show at Club 332, located on the corner of 12th and Phillips here in Sioux Falls, I was hooked. Performing that night I saw queens like Barbra Love, Monique Devore, Jennifer Powers, Kartier Kolby, and Rita Nuvo. The whole show was amazing. It never crossed my mind that after talking with Barbra Love would have led to such an amazing journey. Drag has allowed me to travel and perform in seven national pageants, multiple preliminary pageants, and shows throughout the United States. Our next stop will be Lincoln, Neb., on Nov. 10.
What is your favorite number or song to perform?
Honestly, I could never pinpoint just one favorite song to perform. I have done hundreds of songs over the years, and each one has a separate meaning or memory for me. I’m sure several people would remember me doing “Thank You” by Alanis with my shower curtain; others might remember a certain Joan routine, or perhaps a Reba, Cher, or Celine song.
Do you have any advice for aspiring drag queens?
My best advice would be to follow your instincts. Do what makes you feel good! You own that stage, and all lights are on you, so make it count. Don’t be afraid to try new and innovative things. You cannot be afraid to fail either. Drag is all about learning. Ask the queens who came before you. They have lived it and done it.
What about the audience – any tips for attending drag shows?
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show! We are here to entertain. Some might dance, some might do a comedy routine. Other performers might shine in a show-stopping gown while belting out a love song. Each and every performer offers something different. Don’t forget to tip your performers, too. It helps them afford new outfits, hair, make-up, or maybe a meal at Taco Bell. Last, but not least, tell your friends, tell your coworkers and bring a crowd to the next show.
Speaking of that, when can people catch the next show?
The next drag show at Club David, in Sioux Falls, will be on Friday, Nov. 16. Our theme is “Foxy Lady” and it will begin at 10 p.m. sharp! Following that, Club David’s annual holiday show will be Friday, Dec. 14 at 10 p.m. Tickets available at the door!
How does the ACLU and our work relate to you personally? Are there any issues you feel most connected to?
I feel that since I am a gay man, I often feel like an outcast in society. The ACLU makes me feel like a person, they are fighting and advocating for my rights, and the rights of other LGBTQ individuals.